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Works and Days

Fictions as Truth

June 8th, 2014 - 10:37 pm

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For the Obama administration narrative to be accurate about the swap of five Taliban/al-Qaeda-related kingpins for Sgt. Bergdahl, we are asked to believe the following:

1. Sgt. Bergdahl was in ill health; thus the need for alacrity. Surely we will expect to see him in an enfeebled state on his return to the U.S.

2. Sgt. Bergdahl was in grave and sudden danger from his captors; thus the need for alacrity. We expect to see proof of that on his return to the U.S.

3. The five Taliban detainees will be under guard in Qatar for a year. We expect in June 2015 to know that they are still there in Qatar.

4. The five Taliban detainees don’t really pose a grave threat to U.S. troops, given that we will be gone from Afghanistan in 2016. We expect not to hear that any of the five are reengaged in the war effort to kill Americans between 2015-16.

5. Sgt. Bergdahl served with “honor and distinction.” We expect to have confirmation of that fact once his intelligence file is released and more evidence is adduced that all of his platoon-mates were wrong (or perhaps vindictive and partisan) in stating that he voluntarily left their unit — deserted — to meet up with the Taliban.

6. Sgt. Bergdahl was captured on the “field of battle”; we expect to have confirmation that he was taken unwillingly by the enemy amid a clash of arms.

7. Sgt. Bergdahl was not a collaborator. We expect to learn confirmation of the fact that he did not disclose information to his captors.

8. Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers in his platoon are either partisan operatives or sorely misinformed, and we will shortly learn that their accounts of Bergdahl’s disappearance were erroneous.

9. The U.S. has traditionally negotiated to bring home even deserters, and did so frequently, for example, both during and after the Korean War when GIs crossed into North Korea.

10. The timing of the swap amid the VA scandal and the press conference with the Bergdahl family were not predicated on political considerations.

11. There is no law stopping the president from releasing terrorists from Guantanamo, only legal fictions promulgated by right-wing critics of the president.

12. The five Taliban terrorists are now old outliers, rusty, and mostly irrelevant to the war in Afghanistan.

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The New Regressives

June 2nd, 2014 - 9:19 pm

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Today’s liberalism is about as liberal as the Hellenistic world was Hellenic — a glossy veneer over a rotten core.

In the old days, liberalism was about the means to an end, not the end itself. Since the days of Socrates, liberalism enshrined free inquiry, guided by inductive thinking and empirical use of data. Its enemies were not necessary organized religion — some of the Church fathers sought to find their salvation through the means of neo-Platonic cosmology and Aristotelian logic — or government or traditional custom and practice, but rather deductive thinking anywhere it was found.

Yet today liberalism itself is deductive. It has descended into a constructed end that requires any means necessary to achieve it. Take any hot-button liberal issue: censorship, abortion, global warming, affirmative action, or illegal immigration. Note the liberal reaction.

I don’t like most of the assigned readings that now pass for the university’s seminal texts of the liberal arts. But on the other hand, I don’t believe in triggers to warn students of what is inside a book. Otherwise, I might insist that universities put a warning on Rigoberta Menchú’s or Barack Obama’s autobiographies:Trigger Warning: these are fictive accounts that rely on occasional invention and adaption and so do not, as the authors have claimed, reflect actual events.” Nor would I want a written trigger for the book flap of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, along the following lines: “Trigger Warning: Ms. Goodwin has admitted past plagiarism in her works, a fact that may be necessary to weigh when evaluating her present history.” Readers can determine for themselves to what degree past confessions of plagiarism should guide their own studies.

Nor do I favor yanking Bill Maher off television — in Paula Deen or Duck Dynasty fashion — for his serial profane and misogynist attacks on Sarah Palin and other conservative women. Nor do I want a running Trigger Warning on the bottom of the screen, as Maher talks: “Trigger Warning: We do not endorse Mr. Maher’s sometime misogynistic and reactionary use of slurs against prominent women with whom he disagrees.”

Nor do I think MSNBC must dump Al Sharpton for his past homophobic, anti-Semitic, and racist rants that have on occasion contributed to fatal violence. If they wish to put a buffoon who cannot read a teleprompted script on the air, then it is their market decision to do so, and we are adult enough to make the necessary channel selections. Nor do I think Chris Rock should apologize for calling the 4th of July “white people’s day,” or for that matter Jamie Foxx making a crude joke about the joy of killing white people as an actor in the latest Tarantino film. Free speech assumes that much of free speech is crude and vulgar.

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Lord Obama

May 26th, 2014 - 5:04 pm

If we were living in normal times, the following scandals and failures — without going into foreign policy — would have ruined a presidency to the point of reducing it to Nixon, Bush, or Truman poll ratings.

Think of the following: the Fast and Furious scandal, the VA mess, the tapping of the communications of the Associated Press reporters, the NSA monitoring, Benghazi in all of its manifestations, the serial lies about Obamacare, the failed stimuli, the chronic zero interest/print money policies, the serial high unemployment, the borrowing of $7 trillion to no stimulatory effect, the spiraling national debt, the customary violations of the Hatch Act by Obama cabinet officials, the alter ego/fake identity of EPA head Lisa Jackson, the sudden departure of Hilda Solis after receiving union freebies, the mendacity of Kathleen Sebelius, the strange atmospherics surrounding the Petraeus resignation, the customary presidential neglect of enforcing the laws from immigration statutes to his own health care rules, the presidential divisiveness (“punish our enemies,” “you didn’t build that,” Trayvon as the son that Obama never had, etc.), and on and on.

So why is there not much public reaction or media investigatory outrage?

In one sense there is: an iconic, landmark president was ushered into office with a supermajority in the Senate and a solidly Democratic House, at a time the public felt angry over the Iraq war and the 2008 financial meltdown. Six years later, Obama’s poll ratings bottomed out at about 43%. He lost the House in 2010, and he probably will see the Senate gone in 2014. But that said, amid such failure Obama will never descend to 30% approval ratings, and that again bring to mind the question: why?

Obvious answers:

1) His record support among minorities will not change since 70-90% of various hyphenated groups see the Obama tenure as long-overdue representation of their own interests — economic, ethnic, and symbolic. It does no good to cite rising unemployment rates among African-Americans or a deterioration in household income among Latinos. The point is that Obama feels their pain, even if his policies helped cause it. In this view, expecting blacks, to take one example, to defect from Obama would be as if right-wing rural Texans would have abandoned Bush in 2006, or the Malibu set would have given up on Clinton during Monicagate. In short — unlikely.

2) The media is not just overwhelmingly hard left, but hard left with a chip on its shoulder that its own views are neither accepted by the majority nor usually implemented by government.

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The Unforgiving Moment

May 18th, 2014 - 10:50 pm
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Stock photo of mountain bike crash by Shutterstock.com.

Life is turned upside down in a nanosecond.

This weekend I missed my first posting at PJ Media since beginning in 2006.

Why? Let me briefly explain the lapse — if I can be forgiven for comparing a bike accident with what I have seen on the farm the last 50 years (sliced off fingers, crushed legs, herbicide poisonings, manifold burns, etc.).

I was going on a usual morning bike ride — safe stuff with like-minded older folks. I’m 60; so is my biking partner and fellow Hoover Institution associate Bruce Thornton. We are hardly reckless. (Not like sulfuring at midnight recklessly in one’s 20s in the old days without goggles or mask.)

We usually go deliberately during off-traffic hours when cars are rare, on little-traveled roads and bike paths. We always follow the same direction over the same 32-mile route. After nine years we have memorized every bump, cracked bit of pavement, bad stop light, etc. We bike slowly, about 14-15 mph, always in single file.  We are, after all, 60 and hear daily horrific stories of injured and dead bikers.

In nearly ten years of rides, I have had some scrapes but only two bad spills (a homeless person once jumped out from the bushes on a Santa Rosa bike path; I swerved to miss him and ended up going over the handlebars: slight concussion; broken shoulder, three ribs, and collar bone. I was also attacked and knocked flat once by a pack of dogs with no licenses, shots, or English-speaking owners).  So we must be doing something carefully, for our sixtyish group of three or four to usually avoid problems.

I lead a yearly tour on May 17th, so usually quit riding one week ahead, just in case. Friday morning was to be last ride until I came back on May 30.

About four-fifths of the way home, suddenly the front wheel locked and I woke up about 15 seconds later with my face on the pavement. Four hours later at the emergency room I discovered that I had four ruined teeth (three shaved off, one split down the middle into the root), a concussion, a broken nose, 65 stitches for facial and gum lacerations, and a sliced-apart lower lip (with broken teeth shards sticking into my upper lip).

What happened? Apparently a hairline fissure around the carbon bike fork failed, and the fork bent and locked up the front wheel without warning. (Yes, I know I should inspect the bike thoroughly each time I get on, but the crack was invisible.)

Seven days after falling, I am leaving for Europe and the tour this week, a bit dizzy, fearful that my ogre-like appearance will turn off audiences. I’ve been getting out of bed to rush off to various doctors to extract a split abscessing tooth, do a bone graft, grind off jagged teeth points that have lacerated my tongue, have stitches removed, etc. — and feel both foolish and very lucky.  I had a jammed neck and was a bit disorientated, suggesting to the ER staff a fracture and perhaps serious neck problems. But the CT scan came back normal. After sitting under bags of ice and gobs of Neosporin ointment the last five days, I have reflected on the unforgiving moment that changes everything.

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Americans are outraged by old, sick and pathetic Donald Sterling’s racist rantings—and the manipulative con-artist mistress who recorded their conversation.

But consensus ends after the expression of furor. Who among us is without sin to offer the first bid for his franchise?

If the NBA establishes the precedent that it can force the sale of an owner’s property because of one’s illiberal speech, however odious, what now is the new standard of behavior? A sort of descending French Revolutionary justice, predicated on the sound and fury of the mob?

Harry Reid believes the Washington Redskins owner should be targeted next for his insistence on keeping the Redskins logo. Should he too be forced to sell and by whom—his fellow morally superior owners? Should the Orlando Magic owner, Doug DeVoss, be hounded out of the league—as was recently suggested—because he opposes gay marriage? How many owners don’t believe in the idea of man-made global warming? Oppose illegal immigration? Doubt the wisdom of affirmative action? Can we scour their emails, tap their phones, or ask the public for their private indiscretions?

And who will police the police?  Oddly, some of the very public officials who weighed in on the Sterling matter themselves have a sorry record of racist speech—and in the public, not illegally taped private, realms. Could any of them in their retirement pitch in to buy the Clippers?

Let us quote them, with following brackets of what might have been the conservative equivalent. Vice President Joe Biden called in to record his outrage. Did not Biden himself once offer a creepy racialist riff—creepy precisely because he claimed that Obama was the “first” (not the second or two-hundredth) so-called clean black presidential candidate? [Imagine Dick Cheney claiming Colin Powell was the first “clean” black qualified to be secretary of state.]

Harry Reid is outraged too and wants more franchise owners held to account for supposedly bigoted views. Reid’s own racist rant was more pathetic than was Biden’s because he waded into the details of “light skinned” and “Negro dialect.” [Imagine Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell praising Allen West because he had no “Negro dialect.”]

How about our Supreme Court justices, who certainly have more power over us than does Donald Sterling? Could they buy the Clippers? Justice Sotomayor has offered clearly racist observations: “ I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” [Imagine Justice Scalia claiming that wise Italian male judges reached better conclusions (by virtue of their race and gender) than minority women justices.]

Or can we turn to Justice Ginsburg, who once voiced pop-eugenics nonsense with the plural code word “populations” in defense of abortion (e.g., “concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of“)? [Imagine Justice Thomas sounding off that abortion was no big deal given that we don’t want too many affluent suburbanites.]

Not to be forgotten is President Obama himself. He had some sober and fitting commentary on the Sterling matter, but in the past had assured the nation that he could “no more disown Rev. Wright” (the proud racist and anti-Semitic former Obama pastor) than his own grandmother, whom he then dubbed a “typical white person” (as in the average white person is a racist). Obama then went on to defame the Cambridge police as racial stereotypers, weighed in on the ongoing Trayvon Martin trial by expressing solidarity on the basis of Martin’s racial affinity, and at one time urged Latinos to “punish our enemies.” [Imagine George W. Bush claiming Nicole Simpson looked like the third daughter he never had (and saying that during the O.J. trial), or calling on white Southerners to punish shared adversaries, or referring to an African-American as a “typical black person.”]

Then there is the issue of the nature of Sterling’s more direct stone throwers. After Sterling’s ostracism, which of them can buy a NBA or equivalent sports franchise? Perhaps Spike Lee, who has appeared in NBA-affiliated commercials?

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Cliven Bundy, Racism, Politics, and History

April 27th, 2014 - 3:02 pm

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Cliven Bundy spouted off racist generalizations the other day as reported by a New York Times journalist, stereotyping blacks in negative fashion, with unhinged referencing to slavery — and after that in an ad hoc talk generalizing about Mexican immigrants in positive condescension.

Does that outburst prove Bundy’s resistance to a bullying Bureau of Land Management is racially driven? Or that his cattleman’s existence on the Western range is now tainted?

What are the general rules about assessing issues when the involved parties voice odious creeds?

The difference between a private life and a public career matters. If cowboy Cliven Bundy were organizing a formal resistance to the federal government by emphasizing racist doctrines, then he would be dangerous in the way Rev. Jeremiah Wright was scary in spouting racist diatribes to thousands in his congregation and on his CDs — including to the future president of the United States.

Bundy’s racist pop-theorizing is odious, but not integral to his argument over grazing rights with the federal government. A bit different was the racial hate-mongering of Rev. Wright that seemed to underpin his efforts to build and expand a church and its affiliated community-organizing movements — and drew prominent Chicagoans into his church.

If Bundy’s racism is his own, it is still regrettable and loses him personal sympathy on moral grounds. But his bigotry does not necessarily affect the issues at hand of a cattle rancher being singled out by a federal bureaucracy, in an example of selective, overreaching, and dangerous enforcement.

Last week, a cab driver in Los Angeles did a marvelous job in navigating me through traffic on the congested 405 freeway. That he shared with me (the tip was prepaid), in a well-articulated thesis, his crackpot ideas about evil conspiratorial whites creating the AIDS virus to infect blacks of the inner city was racist to the core, but his bias did not change the fact that he was one of the most skilled and savvy drivers I have encountered. I could see no connection between his Farrakhan-like racism and either his driving skill or treatment of his passenger.

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Cliven Bundy and The Rural Way

April 20th, 2014 - 6:26 pm
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Frank Hanson, my grandfather, riding Paint in Kingsburg, California, in 1959.

I’m sure that Cliven Bundy probably could have cut a deal with the Bureau of Land Management and should have. Of course, it’s never wise to let a federal court order hang over your head. And certainly we cannot have a world of Cliven Bundys if a legal system is to function.

In a practical sense, I also know that if I were to burn brush on a no-burn day, or toss an empty pesticide container in the garbage bin, or shoot a coyote too near the road, I would incur the wrath of the government in a way someone does not who dumps a stripped stolen auto (two weeks ago) in my vineyard, or solvents, oil, and glass (a few months ago), or rips out copper wire from the pump for the third time (last year). Living in a Winnebago with a porta-potty and exposed Romex in violation of zoning statutes for many is not quite breaking the law where I live; having a mailbox five inches too high for some others certainly is.

So Mr. Bundy must realize that in about 1990 we decided to focus on the misdemeanor of the law-abiding citizen and to ignore the felony of the lawbreaker. The former gave law enforcement respect; the latter ignored their authority. The first made or at least did not cost enforcers money; arresting the second began a money-losing odyssey of incarceration, trials, lawyers, appeals, and all the rest.

Mr. Bundy knows that the bullies of the BLM would much rather send a SWAT team after him than after 50 illegal aliens being smuggled by a gun-toting cartel across the southwestern desert. How strange, then, at this late postmodern date, for someone like Bundy on his horse still to be playing the law-breaking maverick Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas) in (the David Miller, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Abbey effort) Lonely Are the Brave.

But the interest in Mr. Bundy’s case is not about legal strategies in revolving fiscal disagreements with the federal government.

Instead, we all have followed Mr. Bundy for three reasons.

One, he called attention to the frightening fact that the federal government owns 83% of the land in Nevada. Note that “federal” and “government” are the key words and yet are abstractions. Rather, a few thousands unelected employees — in the BLM, EPA, Defense Department, and other alphabet soup agencies — can pretty much do what they want on the land they control. And note, this is not quite the case in Silicon Valley or Manhattan or Laguna Beach. The danger can be summed up by a scene I see about once a month on a Fresno freeway: a decrepit truck stopped by the California Highway Patrol for having inadequate tarps on a trailer of green clippings, just as a new city garbage truck speeds by, with wet garbage flying over the median. Who will police the police?

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Our Psychodramatic Campuses

April 13th, 2014 - 6:15 pm

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Dartmouth College students recently staged an overnight sit-in the office of their president Philip Hanlon. They had over seventy demands. Apparently, they grew out of their alleged suffering at the hands of “racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist, trans-homophobic, xenophobic, and ablest structures.”

Translating into English, the students elaborated, “Our bodies are already on the line, in danger, and under attack” — suggesting conditions similar to the teen-aged Marines who stormed Fallujah in November 2004, or perhaps the iron-workers who tip-toe on girders 1,000 feet above Manhattan, or an acquaintance of mine whose work clothes reveal that he pumps out quite messy rural cesspools. As redress for their suffering, the oppressed students issued Orwellian calls to ban particularly hurtful vocabulary, to create new faculty positions based entirely on race, and to ensure gender-neutral student housing.

Most of the students represent the .01% of American society. They can enjoy their four- to five-year hiatus from the American rat race, either due to wealthy parents or to charity in the forms of grants that allow them to pay the $60,000 per year plus in room, board, and tuition. Again, most Americans either do not have such money or access to such money to afford the quarter-million-dollar “under attack” Dartmouth experience.

President Hanlon apparently felt the students’ pain of what they had called “micro-aggressions,” or the day-to-day psychodramatic angst that these young elites feel that are their own versions of the world of the Wal-Mart checker, the roofer in Delano who nails in 105 degree August heat, or the tractor driver who has disked half-mile long rows day in and day out on the farm. If you have never done such things, and you have $60,000 a year to spend on Dartmouth, then I suppose you could conceivably dream up a micro-aggression of being tortured to read woman for womyn, or having to use either the boys’ or girls’ bathroom.

The odd thing is that the students did have a point about the university’s illiberal oppression, but hardly in the manner that they had dreamed. About every year, the Dartmouth board of trustees meets to announce that undergraduate tuition for the upcoming academic year will rise about five percent over the current year’s tuition rate. When they add in similar increases in room and board, the price tag for this next academic year will easily exceed $60,000. In defense of such indulgence, Dartmouth, like other Ivy League atolls, then reminds parents and students that the real costs are about $120,000 and the difference subsidized by gifts and endowments.

But why do very liberal universities do very illiberal things like raise their costs consistently above the rate of inflation, for which, in similar circumstances, food markets or gas stations would be chastised? And why do very liberal professors over the last three decades insist on teaching fewer classes for more money, in a world where nurses do not serve fewer patients for greater salaries? And why do universities in general depend on graduate teachers, part-time lecturers and adjunct faculty to teach many courses that are identical to those taught by full, tenured faculty at rates of compensation three times higher — in an exploitative way that Target or Costco would be fined for? And why, if students are suffering from such micro-aggressions, do they have dorms and student unions and recreation centers that have metamorphosized from the motel like conditions of the past into Club Med resorts, with indoor pools, rock-climbing walls, and Starbucks latte bars?

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Why Aren’t We No. 1?

April 6th, 2014 - 11:04 pm
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The end of Route One, Key West, Florida.

 

There is a pastime among liberal pundits — the latest is Nicholas Kristof — to quote a new center left global ranking (with unbiased titles such as “The Social Progress Imperative”) and then to decry that the United States is behind its major industrial competitors in things like “Internet Access” and “Ecosystem sustainability.” The subtext of these rants is that an illiberal, reactionary U.S. does not spend enough on government entitlements to promote parity, equality and social justice among its citizenry. These pessimistic rankings increase the angst about the American condition when viewed from scowling perches in Washington or New York.

Not surprisingly, the winners in these periodic gloomy assessments are usually smaller or intermediate quasi-socialist nations, with mostly homogeneous ethnic and religious populations (e.g., Switzerland, New Zealand, Iceland, Denmark, etc.). And the result is that Americans are scolded to tone down their pride at being exceptional and to begin to emulate such supposedly more livable societies.

Yet I suppose that if you were to assess, say, the mostly 5.6 million homogenously well off Californians, who lived within 10 miles of the coast, from San Diego to Berkeley, they would compare quite nicely with Denmark. Or for that matter, should the Danish system be applied to 300 million in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, I also think that they would sink a bit in terms of social progress.

The criteria by which America is to be judged are often both biased and historically ignorant. Why not rank the United States in comparison with other similarly huge countries that span three time zones, and include in their enormous populations radically different ethnic and religious groups?

How about comparing America to countries that, like the U.S., have vast territories and diverse populations over 200 million — China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil? How would such nations stack up to the U.S, in terms of corruption, health care, pollution, freedom of the individual, treatment of women and gays, religious tolerance, or other criteria of “social progress?” Is there a global assessment of coups and revolutions per nation, or contrarily the longest sustained democracy?

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The 4th Annual Silicon Valley Rubber Duck Race in Vasona Lake Park on June 12, 2011, in Los Gatos, California.

If only people had to live in the world that they dreamed of for others.

Endangered species everywhere are supposed to be at risk — except birds of prey shredded by wind turbine farms, or reptilian habitats harmed by massive solar farms. High-speed rail is great for utopian visionaries — except don’t dare start it in the Bay Area, when there are yokels aplenty down in Hanford to experiment on. Let’s raise power bills to the highest levels in the country with all sorts of green mandates — given that we live in 70-degree year-round temperatures, while “they” who are stupid enough to dwell in 105-degree Bakersfield deserve the resulting high power bills. We need cheap labor, open borders, multiculturalism, and identity politics, but not too near my kids’ Santa Monica or Atherton prep schools. I like my beamer in La Jolla and my Mercedes in Menlo Park, but not the fracking that might provide cheaper gas for Juan and Jose who drive a used 10-year-old Yukon 40 miles to work in Mendota.

Appreciate these contradictions of the liberal elite mind and the current California drought is logical rather than aberrant.

In this third year of California drought, perhaps 500,000 acres of farmland will lie idle for lack of water. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be sunk into lowering wells, as the aquifer dives, when too many straws compete for too little water at the bottom of the glass. There are reasons why a drought threatens existential ruin in the billions of dollars rather than mere hardship. Our forefathers 50 years ago knew well the ancient California equation: a) California’s population always grows; b) 80% of the state wishes to live where 20% of the rain falls; c) therefore, to ensure that the normal cycles of drought do not prove fatal to commerce and agriculture, man must transfer water from the north to the south of the state.

Unlike 1976-77, there are no longer just 23 million Californians, but 40 million. But unlike the past, Californians in the 1970s gave up on completing the state California Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project that had supplemented the earlier Colorado River, Big Creek, and Hetch Hetchy water storage and transference efforts.

At some fateful moment in the 1970s, the other California on the coast, drunk with the globalized wealth that poured into Napa Valley, the Silicon Valley, the great coastal university nexuses at Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA and Caltech, the entertainment industry, the defense industry, and the financial industry decided that they had transcended the old warnings of more Californians needing far more water to survive more droughts. When you are rich, you can afford for the first time in your life to favor a newt with spots on his toes over someone else that lacks your money, clout, and sensitivities.

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